Marriage does not end with divorce but the moment a couple stops loving and respecting each other, Michael and Juliet Mifsud believe. They are a pro-divorce, happily married couple.
“Divorce, as it is being proposed, is not an easy ticket out of marriage. It is the responsible thing to help people whose marriage has ended and cannot be fixed,” said the couple from Għargħur, who have been married for 16 years and have three children.
The Mifsuds believe that separation and divorce are a mere formality – the marriage would have ended long before. “This is why we agree with a responsible law for divorce. Because in some instances it can be a solution for people whose marriages have broken down,” said Mr Mifsud, 40, a works manager.
“Just because we don’t need it, it doesn’t mean that we should impose on others. Everybody has a right to happiness,” said Mrs Mifsud, 39, who works as a night-shift nurse, three times a week.
The Mifsuds gave their interview in their living room, which is a vivid testimony to their family life: strewn with children’s toys, books and scribbles; the television is on Cartoonito channel; the dining table is multipurpose – a makeshift office desk for the parents and a colouring-in bench for the younger children.
They are keen not to give the impression that their marriage, as all others, is not hard work: “We work a lot for our marriage. We’ve been through problems, like other families, and we’ve had a million arguments. We’re all the time challenging each other’s opinions. But so far we’ve always managed to discuss and find a compromise,” said Mr Mifsud.
Their secret is making time for each other. They work different hours so as to ensure that at any point in time one of them is at home with the children, but they also try hard to have some “couple time “We go for a walk in the morning by ourselves. Just for 20 minutes before work and the start of a hectic day, we go for a walk and we talk,” said Mrs Mifsud. Weekends and evenings, as much as is possible, are reserved for family time.
They are adamant about maintaining their relationship: “We hope there will be another set of 16 years after this and another 16 after those.” However, they feel strongly that through their referendum vote, they should not stop others from pursuing a second chance in love.
“Maybe those of us who are married and don’t need a divorce are in a majority but who are we to tell the minority of couples, whose marriage has irretrievably broken down, what they ought to do?”
What do they make of the anti-divorce camp’s claim that divorce will make it easier for people to part ways, rather than work at solving conflicts in marriage? The Mifsuds find this almost unrealistic: “Surely, no one gets married with the aim to separate: at the very least, it’s not worth the major expense or the heartache.”
They believe that the people who simply want to pack up and leave already have “a way out with separation and annulment”. Divorce, they argue, would at least “bring about a certain stability” for couples who are already into a second relationship and cannot, at present re-marry.
But what about the suffering children go through when their parents divorce? “Well, the negative effect on the children won’t be the direct result of divorce – the children are affected throughout the process of separation – which is four years before the actual divorce,” Mr Mifsud said, explaining that they talk openly about the divorce issue with their eldest son, Gregory, 13. “We’ve explained to him our stand and discussed it – we don’t have anything to hide.”
The couple aren’t worried that a divorce law would instil in their children a disposable attitude to marriage, and claim they had their children in mind when they decided to take a pro-divorce stand: “We impart to our children the values of commitment. But just imagine, God forbid, my daughter’s marriage fails. Why should I deny my daughter the possibility of marrying again?” said Mr Mifsud.
They are not too concerned about statistics which indicate that in countries where there is divorce the number of cohabitations has increased, and the claim that divorce would make marriage redundant. “Whoever wants to cohabit doesn’t need divorce,” they said.
The couple are practising Catholics but do not feel any less Catholic because of their pro-divorce stand: “With divorce you are only undoing the civil ties. This is a completely secular issue and by voting in favour of divorce we are not in any way going against our religion,” said Mr Mifsud.
If their marriage went wrong would they divorce? Mrs Mifsud said it would depend on the context of the situation she’d be in. Her husband finds it difficult to picture the scenario as after all these years he can’t imagine himself separating: “Juliet is my companion and my best friend. I don’t think we can live without each other. If my marriage breaks I will keep on trying to save it.”
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